Environmental Impact Deemed "Limited" For Potentially Explosive Shale Gas Pipeline Into Lower Manhattan

Last Friday, exactly one year after the massive natural gas pipeline blast that killed eight and leveled a San Bruno, California neighborhood, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) brought the controversial New Jersey-New York gas line one step closer to construction.

The pipeline, as proposed by Spectra Energy, would carry shale gas through a number of New Jersey towns, under the Hudson River, and into the Meatpacking District of Lower Manhattan. On Friday, FERC released a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that gave preliminary approval for construction of the pipeline and all of the related aboveground facilities. The EIS runs over 800 pages long, so I wasn’t able to give it a thorough read (you can find links to all the sections here), but the Executive Summary gave every indication that the line would be approved. FERC found “that construction and operation of the NJ-NY Project would result in limited adverse environmental impacts” and that “[T]hese limited impacts would mostly occur during the period of construction.”

For all the detailed discussion of wetlands and waterways and noise pollution and archaeological sites, there’s one major risk – environmental and public safety – that the report glosses over.

What happens if there’s an explosion? New Jersey-New York City shale gas pipeline map

Granted, it isn’t the role of an EIS to disqualify a pipeline on pure disaster risk potential, but you’d think that it would have to address the environmental impacts associated with the very real potential for explosive accidents. FERC finds just a “slight increase in risk” to residents who live near this 30 inch shale gas pipeline.

The pipeline and aboveground facilities associated with the NJ-NY Project would be designed, constructed, operated, and maintained to meet or exceed the DOT Minimum Federal Safety Standards in Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 192 and other applicable federal and state regulations. By designing and operating the proposed Project in accordance with the applicable standards, the Project would represent only a slight increase in risk to the nearby public.

The public safety advocates behind NoGasPipeline.org make the case that the proposed NJ-NYC gas line would be roughly the same size and rely on the same pressure as that which caused the deadly San Bruno blast. Of course, that San Bruno line was old – originally installed in 1956, but a recent report by the National Transportation Safety Board blamed lax regulatory oversight and PG&E’s inadequate safety monitoring for the fatal tragedy.

Spectra has already lost local confidence in their safety measures. As reported by Natural Gas Watch in June, federal regulators cited Spectra with “17 inadequacies in its pipeline safety operations and procedures” for things like “continuing pipeline surveillance” and “welding procedures.”

The folks at Natural Gas Watch mapped out a rough version of potential impacts if a blast similar to San Bruno were to occur at the pipeline's point of entry into Manhattan.

shale gas blast New Jersey New York shale gas line explosion

The citizens behind NoGasPipelines.org also created a “blast map” on the New Jersey side of things that is actually far more detailed and every bit as jaw-dropping.

Upon receiving the draft EIS, Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy expressed his disappointment in no unclear terms. The report “does not address our primary concerns, which are the safety and security of our residents and the impact on the future development of our city,” Healy said in a statement. “Additionally, we feel strongly that there are serious environmental impacts that this would have on our community and our residents, and we remain vehemently opposed to this project.”

The public now has 45 days to comment on the draft EIS before the final version is prepared. You can e-file your comments here until October 31st.


By their banning fracturing it seams they don’t like gas anyway. Can they just vote on legislation to ban all the pipelines in the state? Shut them all down they are destroying our planet!

From reading this article, I fail to understand how this particular pipeline is any more dangerous than the 4,300 miles of pipeline which have been installed in the immediate area, and are perfectly safe, for many decades?

If anything, one would assume this pipeline is SAFER – simply by virtue of the fact that it is newer.

And why do you make the distinction that this pipeline, you claim, will carry “shale gas”?  Is that to make it sound scarier, or something?  Natural gas is natural gas, regardless of where it originates.  Are we supposed to assume “shale gas” is suddenly the equivalent of nitroglycerine?

Before flying off on such unhinged fear-mongering, you might at least want to address some of the relevant facts, first.

Hi David-Thanks for your comments and questions. I'll certainly do my best to clarify things. I only called it “shale gas” because by the company's literature, that's what will be transported through the pipeline. I could've called it methane gas or natural gas or whatever. I didn't make any claim or intend to portray it as “scarier” or anything like that. Just adding a detail, as reporters/writers/bloggers are sometimes wont to do. I believe that natural gas of all origins is equally volatile and explosive.

As for the “4,300 miles of pipeline which have been installed” in the area: I wouldn't call it the “immediate” area, as there aren't any on the island of Manhattan. That was the point I was trying to make. There aren't any in such a densely populated area anywhere in the country. That's the biggest concern.

I do agree with you that this pipeline would likely be safer than many of the 50+ year old ones stretched across our country. But that doesn't mean that new pipelines don't have accidents or leaks or explosions. And the fact that Spectra was cited for 17 violations already is, I believe, reason for concern for anyone living or working near the path of this proposed line.

If Manhattan has no natural gas then what is PSEG selling there??????